First drive: Seat Leon ST Cupra
The sublime Seat Leon Cupra hatchback has now spawned a compact estate version badged the Leon ST Cupra. Available for just under £1,000 more than the equivalent hatch, it is arguably a more compelling proposition, offering greater practicality without compromising on performance. AOL Cars spent a week with one to see if it's worthy of consideration.
What is it?
The fastest production estate car ever to lap the Nurburgring. Astonishingly, this unassuming family car has beaten the likes of the mighty Audi RS4 around the world's most fearsome race track, despite lacking that car's four-wheel-drive and thumping V8 engine. The ST shares its oily bits with the Leon Cupra hatchback, including its mechanical front differential, which maximizes grip in the corners, as well as its subtle body kit. The changes are largely at the rear, where the longer bodywork hides a more commodious load space, up from 380 litres to 587 litres. (1,470 litres with the rear seats folded).
What's under the bonnet?
A heavily turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol motor that develops 276bhp and a surfeit of torque, which gives the ST Cupra a very muscly demeanour. The performance it delivers is almost hysterical, and – assuming it's dry – the Cupra will surge towards the horizon with the sort of violence you'd expect from a thoroughbred sports car. However, on damp roads the tyres struggle to cope with the power, resulting in some unseemly scrabbling at the Tarmac. Seat claims ST Cupra will cover the 0-62mph sprint in 6.1 seconds, though we'd estimate they're being rather conservative here. Buyers will have a choice of six-speed manual or twin-clutch automatic gearboxes – we'd recommend the former for the extra degree of involvement it offers.
What's the spec like?
Leon Cupra models are well specified and come with all the mod-cons you'd expect, including full LED headlights, automatic headlights and wipers, Dynamic Chassis Control, supportive sports seats and a media system operated through a 5.8-inch touchscreen.
Seat also offers a number of different options packages, such as the eye-searing Orange Line pack fitted to our test model. For the £505 asking price it adds orange alloys wheels, door mirror housings, front grille trim and rear boot lettering. It won't be to everyone's taste, but it'll certainly get you noticed.
Also available is the 'Sub-8' pack, which adds the bigger brakes and stickier tyres the Cupra used when setting its astonishing Nurburgring lap time. It's pricey at £2,225, but it does unlock the car's full performance potential.
A number of rival manufacturers are beginning to offer their fast hatchbacks in esate form. Topping the list is the Volkswagen Golf R Estate, which boasts even more power, and the grip and stability of four-wheel-drive. Those looking for a cheaper alternative should consider the Ford Focus ST Estate. While ultimately it trails the Cupra in performance terms, it's comfy, well equipped and fun to drive. For many it will prove to be a better everyday all-rounder than the rip-snorting Cupra.
What's it like to drive?
Much like its hatchback sibling, the ST Cupra is agile and responsive, and attacks corners with real gusto. The levels of grip on offer are impressive, and goad you into throwing the car harder and harder into corners. Unfortunately the limited-slip differential doesn't make itself felt particularly prominently, with the car washing wide should you get too eager with your cornering speeds. The suspension is noticeably firmer than standard models, though isn't crashy, even on undulating and rutted Tarmac – which, combined with a relatively tranquil cabin, means the ST Cupra really does offer sports car thrills as well as family-friendly usability.
The AOL Cars verdict
Seat has served up an incredibly accomplished package in the ST Cupra. It's no less easy to use or live with than a regular Leon, though it has a serious performance edge that will keep keen drivers engaged. If you need the extra space of an estate car, but you're worried it meant being relegated to a life of driving tedium, it could very well be the car for you.
Model: Seat Leon ST Cupra 280
Price: £29,205 (£31,520 as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power: 276bhp 350Nm
Max speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Fuel economy: 42.2mpg
Emissions: 157g/km CO2